Feta Spinach Mina (Spanikopi-Mina)

Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  10 to 12 servings
Prep Time:  35 minutes Steeping Time:  15 minutes Cook Time:  1 hour 20 minutes

Feta Spinach Mina (Spanikopi-Mina)

Mina are Sephardic Passover matzo-based lasagna. I have made many a mina, but this one I really wanted to be substantial and Mediterranean in flavor. So off to Greece I went (vicariously) and lo and behold, I created a spanikopita that was full of roasted potatoes, bursting in herbs, and enriched with a tangy, eggy custard. Even some strident matzo-haters really love this dish. Make it, taste it, and you’ll know why.

Ingredients

6 medium russet potatoes (about 3½ pounds), peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1½ teaspoons freshly ground white pepper, divided

Leaves of 2 sprigs fresh marjoram or oregano, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)

Leaves of 4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped (about  2 teaspoons, see Kitchen Tips)

3 large onions, peeled and cut into ¾-inch pieces (about 7 cups)

1½ pounds fresh baby spinach

4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated, any green centers discarded

1 medium bunch dill, finely chopped (about 1 ½ to 2 ounces)

9 ounces (about 1½ cups) crumbled feta cheese

10 eggs, divided

 

Sauce:

4 cups light cream, half and half, or milk

8 dried or 5 fresh bay leaves

4 sprigs fresh marjoram or oregano

8 sprigs fresh thyme

¼ cup potato or tapioca starch

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

 

Matzo Layers:

6 to 8 sheets matzo (see Kitchen Tips), egg matzo preferred  

1 to 1½ cups shredded kasseri cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Instructions

  1. Roast the potatoes: Preheat the oven to 385°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Arrange the potatoes on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon ground pepper, toss gently to coat, and pat down into a single layer. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are browned and just tender when pierced with a fork.
  2. Meanwhile, sauté the onions: In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the onions, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 35 minutes, until they have cooked down considerably, are rich brown in color, and completely softened.
  3. While the onions are cooking, make the spinach and feta: Beat 2 eggs lightly in a small bowl. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over high heat until it shimmers. Add half the spinach and 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook, mixing gently, for about 3 minutes, until wilted. Add the remaining fresh spinach, the garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and mix well. Reduce the heat to low, and cook, mixing occasionally, for about 3 minutes longer, until all of the spinach is wilted. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a mixing bowl and cool to room temperature.
  4. When it has cooled, spoon the spinach mixture into a fine-mesh sieve and strain over the sink, discarding the liquid. Return the spinach to the bowl. Add the dill, feta, and the beaten eggs and mix to combine. Set aside.
  5. Combine the cream, bay leaves, and thyme and marjoram sprigs in a medium saucepan set over medium heat, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until hot but not scalded. Remove from the heat, and allow to steep for about 15 minutes.
  6. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, strain the cream into it and then pour the cream back into the pan. Discard the strained herbs. Bring the cream to a simmer over low heat. Pour the potato starch in a small mixing bowl and while whisking, drizzle about ½ to ¾ cup of the cream into it (see Kitchen Tips). Whisk until the starch fully dissolved. Pour the cream mixture back into into the saucepan and whisk for 30 to 60 seconds, just until smooth and thickened. Add the salt and pepper, stir well and remove from the heat.
  7. Assemble the mina: Spray a 9- by 13- or 9- by 14-inch baking or lasagna pan with nonstick olive oil spray. Pour in 2 cups of the sauce. Arrange a layer of matzo on it, breaking it at the perforations as necessary, so that it forms a single layer. Arrange the roasted potatoes evenly over the matzo and sprinkle the and the chopped marjoram and thyme over them. Top with the caramelized onions, distributing them as evenly as you can.
  8. In a medium bowl beat the remaining 8 eggs and pour over the potato and onions.
  9. Arrange another layer of the matzo on top, again, breaking it at the perforations so that it forms a single layer. Top the matzo with the feta and spinach layer, spreading it evenly.
  10. Arrange the remaining matzo on top of the spinach and feta layer and then cover completely with the remaining 2 cups sauce. Spread the shredded cheese on top.
  11. Spray a large piece of aluminum foil with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Loosely cover the pan with it, sprayed side down. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes, until the top of the mina is lightly browned. Serve immediately.  (You can cover and refrigerate any leftovers and heat in the microwave or serve at room temperature the next day.)

Kitchen Tips

  1. To remove the leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme, hold the sprig (or a few) at the top with one hand, and with the other hand, grasp the stem with your thumb and forefinger and gently slide your fingers down the stem. The leaves will be pushed against the direction they grow in, and will come off easily.
  2. If your bowl wobbles around precariously while you are whisking with one hand and pouring with the other, dampen a kitchen towel and fashion it into a round “nest” on your kitchen counter. Nestle the bowl into it securely and continue whisking and pouring.
  3. The exact amount of matzo you need will depend on the brand you buy and the size of your pan.

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